Atlanta Film Festival lightens up in 2010

"Festive" sometimes seems like the wrong word for film festivals, which can come across as strongholds of solemnity. This year's Atlanta Film Festival opens Thurs., April 15 with Freedom Riders, a documentary about the Civil Rights Movement and the freedom rides of 1961. The fest also includes movies about such cheery topics as the plight of Tibet, Proposition 8, illegal immigration, high school shootings and blind teenagers. And that's just the documentaries. Phrases such as "drug addict," "underbelly of suburbia" and "spiral out of control" frequently describe the feature film plots.

While a majority of the movies at festivals tackles heavy subject matter, a deeper focus on the programming and people behind the scenes can find a sense of humor that's usually subtle, but sometimes silly. "The tag that film festivals get is that we're bastions of liberalism. We're so serious about issues that we wake up with knots in our stomachs, because we care so much about these things. No: We're like everyone else. We want to have fun, too. We want people to come together and have a good time," says Charles Judson, communications director of the Atlanta Film Festival.

This year's Atlanta Film Festival lightens up with an unusual emphasis on comic relief, including three documentaries about the art of live comedy performance: The Battle of Pussy Willow Creek, I Am Comic, and most notably, Saturday Night, a making-of look at "Saturday Night Live" directed by stoner heartthrob James Franco.

Atlanta Film Festival

April 15-23. Prices and times vary. Landmark Midtown Art Cinema, 931 Monroe Drive. 678-495-1424. atlantafilmfestival.com.

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(Photo by Joeff Davis)